Production Team: C
Interview Date: November 1, 1985
Interview Place: Birmingham, Alabama
Camera Rolls: 513-515
Sound Rolls: 1507
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Arthur Shores, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 1, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Sound Number 1507
Camera Roll Number 513
OK, SO I'M LOOKING FOR A POINT IN TIME, AND AS SOON AS JOHN SAYS WE'RE READY, UH, WHERE YOU MIGHT HAVE FELT THAT YOU WERE MORE THAN JUST AN INDIVIDUAL BUT PART OF SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT.
There was a time, when I first began to practice law, the first two or three years, I became associated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Being the only black lawyer in the state, they retained me to represent their interests and to associate with their national counsel here in Alabama.
NOW, SOMEWHERE EARLY IN YOUR CAREER, YOU MUST HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE AUTHERINE LUCY CASE. I WONDER IF YOU COULD COMMENT ON THAT, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF IT.
Well, the Autherine Lucy case was, an application was made, in about 1952, they refused to admit her, so, we filed an action in the federal court, and the federal court author — authorized them to admit her. The University appealed the case. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, and the Court of the United States Supreme Court directed that she be admitted, and this was 1954, before the case had closed, and she was — they were directed to admit her at the University of Alabama. And on taking her down to the University, she was admitted, but for three days there were riots on the campus. They had to close the school down for three days. And, finally, as a result of certain statements, uh she was suspended or expelled. And that was the end of uh, that particular attention of the record of blacks to the University of Alabama.
O.K. WELL, WE'LL PROBABLY COME BACK TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA QUESTION, BUT LET'S MOVE ON NOW. YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU WERE INVOLVED IN THE NAACP. IN 1956, IT WAS ELIMINATED FROM THE STATE OF ALABAMA, BECAUSE IT FAILED TO REGISTER AS A FOREIGN CORPORATION. I'VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD HOW IT WAS A FOREIGN CORPORATION.
Well, by foreign corporation, they meant a corporation not in the state of Alabama – A not organized in the state of Alabama. So all corporations that are organized in another state is a, is a foreign corporations to the state in which they seek to enter,
O.K. SO THEREFORE ANYBODY WHO REGISTERS — ANYBODY FROM OUT OF STATE HAS TO REGISTER AS A FOREIGN CORPORATON.
I THOUGHT MAYBE IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH COMMUNIST INFLUENCE.
O.K. WELL, LET'S MOVE ON THEN. UM, ONCE – IT HAS BEEN SUGGESTED BY SOME PEOPLE THAT ONCE THE NAACP WAS ELIMINATED IN THE STATE OF ALABAMA, THAT IT TOOK AWAY A MODERATE VOICE, AND LEFT ONLY THE VOICES OF THE RADICAL WHITES AND RADICAL BLACKS TO REALLY CARRY ON THE DEMONSTRATIONS THAT FOLLOWED. HOW DO YOU SEE THAT?
Well, it was only for a short time, because uh, we went —
OK COULD YOU JUST START THAT, BECAUSE NOBODY CAN HEAR MY QUESTION. NOW JUST SORT OF COMMENT ON…
Well, when the state was enjoined from operating, that is, when the NAACP was enjoined from operating in the state, uh, we immediately went into the courts, and it went through the courts to the United States Supreme Court, and of course they required us — them to uh, admit us again. But during the time that we were silent, the uh other organization – they, there was an organization here in Birmingham, uh, I don't recall the name just now, but it became affiliated with the SCLC, and of course, from then on, the LCLC was uh, one of the prime movers of what was happening in the state of - Alabama.
OK, YOU MUST HAVE BEEN REFERRING TO THE ALABAMA CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT FOR EQUAL RIGHTS [overlap]
Yeah, that's right. That was — that's right.
TELL ME ABOUT FRED SHUTTLESWORTH. WAS HE AN IMPORTANT INGREDIENT AT THIS POINT?
Quite, quite an important ingredient. Uh, as a result of his activities, he was arrested, and uh, placed in jail, and they wouldn't even permit him to have bonds or we uh, filed action in state court, we had to appeal it to the Court of Appeals, then to the State Supreme Court, which denied it, and we uh, appealed it to the United States Supreme Court immediately, and the justice — one of the justices of the Supreme Court directed us to again uh, see if they would release him. If not, then uh he would have a local federal judge to direct that he be released. Well, the thing about it, uh, we were down at the Supreme Court, and when they indicated that uh, — they knew what would happen, but I would have to get back to Birmingham, and contact the federal district judge. So they uh, indicated that they were just going to delay, until the federal judge had left his office. So I went in the clerk's office and called a friend of mine, Fred Gray, and told him that um, we would have to probably remain overnight, until the court made its decision where we could uh see a federal judge. And I also called Judge Grooms and told him to wait for me. And, evidently the clerk made that known to the uh, chief justice, and very shortly afterwards, he uh told us that oh, well, he made his decision. And of course, I immediately — immediately got in the car and came back to Birmingham. The federal judge made his order, and uh, Shuttlesworth was released.
YOU LIVED IN A NEIGHBORHOOD ABOUT THAT TIME THAT WAS REFERRED TO FONDLY AS DYNAMITE HILL. COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT DYNAMITE HILL?
Well, Dynamite Hill came as a result of a case that I uh, had filed to uh, have the zoning ordinance in the City of Birmingham declared unconstitutional. During that time, the city had a zoning ordinance which required blacks to live in certain sections, and whites in other sections, and it was a violation of the law to uh, move into a section, or property that was zoned for one of the other races. Well, a black man uh, bought a piece of property that uh, was zoned for white, and had a house built on it. And when the house was completed uh, he applied for a certificate of occupancy. And the city refused. We went into the federal court, and the court directed the city to issue the certificate of occupancy. And the night after this certificate of occupancy was uh issued, that house was completely destroyed by dynamite. Then of course, the, we next had to file a suit to have that, the ordinance declared unconstitutional. Which was uh, finally declared unconstitutional by a federal judge. And that house was dynamited and one end was blown off. And then, of course, right across the street, Center Street, uh, on the side of Center Street where I lived, half of that block was zoned for white, and the other half for black. Well, blacks began to buy property on that half, and whites across the street begin moving out. They sold their houses to blacks, and before black could move in, uh, that house was blown up, dynamite, or either — or either burned. And what broke it up there was the blacks had hired a white member who infiltrated the Klan and the Klan notified him that on a certain night, a certain house, that had been recently purchased, would be either burned or dynamited. And at the appointed hour, uh, blacks had secreted themselves across from this house, and when the whites came up, they opened gunfire. One white was killed, and several were wounded. Nothing was ever placed in the paper about it. And that broke it up, there was no more burning there until several years later, uh, in 1963, I believe it was, when the schools were integrated.
OK LET ME UH MOVE ON TO UM. [A hundred feet remaining on this roll.] THERE WAS AT THAT TIME A PLAN TO CHANGE THE FORM OF GOVERNMENT IN THE CITY OF BIRMINGHAM. WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD ABOUT THAT, DID YOU THINK THAT WAS REALLY GOING TO IMPROVE THINGS FOR THE BLACK POPULATION?
Well, we felt that it would. That a… county system that we have now, the mayor-council form, that we would be able to get more liberal persons elected to the council, and a mayor who was —
LET ME KIND OF DIRECT YOUR ANSWER THERE ALONG THE LINES — SOME OF THIS, AS I UNDERSTAND, WAS DIRECTED TOWARD BULL CONNOR AND PERHAPS ART HAYNES, TRYING TO GET THEM OUT OF POWER. SO COULD YOU KIND OF ADDRESS YOUR ANSWER UM, TO THE PEOPLE THAT WERE INVOLVED THEN, AND THE REASON THERE WAS NEED FOR CHANGE.
Well, of course, uh, Bull Connor was a person who ordinarily, having charge of the police department, uh, he was the one who kept things as they were. For instance, you've probably seen the pictures where he had his dogs and fire hoses, uh, attacking blacks who were marching, and of course it was uh, I mean, the situation was unbearable, under Bull Connor, and as well as Art Haynes, as the mayor. But you know one thing, uh, during the — during those times, blacks didn't have any political power. Blacks were not voting, and many of the uh, persons who were in office, really, in order for them to be elected to office, they had to come out strong against blacks participating. And shortly after the few black votes that were, when they sought to get the support of these blacks, they would not attend black meetings openly, they would clandestinely uh, act in support of blacks without letting the general public know about it.
DID ALBERT BOUTWELL DO THAT?
Uh, no uh, things had changed by that time. We had gone into court. And, uh, blacks were being registered even then, in considerable numbers, so as a result, whites begin to court – and blacks begin to organize.
[Camera run out. Camera run out on roll number 513. We'll now go to 514]
IN 1963, THE NEW GOVERNMENT WAS, WAS ELECTED. ALBERT BOUTWELL WAS ELECTED MAYOR, AFTER THE RUNOFF WITH BULL CONNOR. SUDDENLY THERE WERE TWO FORMS OF GOVERNMENT IN THE CITY, AND THEN DR. KING AND THE SCLC STARTED THEIR CAMPAIGN. THERE WAS ALREADY CHANGE COMING IN BIRMINGHAM. DID YOU THINK DR. KING'S INTERVENTION WAS NECESSARY AT THAT POINT?
Well, as results of the — results, we felt that it was. Because it seemed, nationally, on television, the uh fire hoses, and the dogs it pricked the conscience of the country. Congress immediately began passing the legislation. Uh, the uh, Equal Rights Act, and subsequently the Voter Rights Act, where it sent federal registrars into the state. And that had a tremendous impact on change. So I would attribute it to — largely, right along through there. See, we had been using the courts, which is a very slow process, and we had to go from county to county and file suits. But uh, when uh, the Civil Rights Act – as a result of what they had — Congress and the people of this country had seen, happening, uh, it changed the whole situation here, in this state.
IT SEEMS LIKE THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS AT WORK HERE. ONE WAS A NEED TO CHANGE BIRMINGHAM, BUT THEN WHAT HAPPENED AS A RESULT OF BIRMINGHAM WAS SOMETHING THAT REALLY CHANGED THE NATION.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. that's right.
WERE THOSE TWO THINGS THAT —
I'M WAS JUST WONDERING IF A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING FOR BIRMINGHAM, AND FELT THAT THIS NATIONAL THING BECAME AN INTRUSION.
Well, as a result of uh, the action in Congress, the people who were elected by the people throughout the country, uh, I should think that the whole country was uh — well, the majority, anyway, was in favor of what was happening.
OK, I'M TRYING TO GET RIGHT BACK INTO BIRMINGHAM, THOUGH. BECAUSE YOU'RE LOOKING AT THINGS FROM WHAT — HOW THEY TURNED OUT, AND I'M JUST KIND OF WONDERING WHAT THE FEELINGS WERE DURING UH THOSE DAYS IN BIRMINGHAM. UM, BURKE MARSHALL FINALLY HAD TO COME IN, THINGS GOT SO OUTRAGEOUS THAT BURKE MARSHALL CAME IN FROM THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO NEGOTIATE A SETTLEMENT WITH THE CITY. UH WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT THOSE UH, NEGOTIATIONS?
Well, of course, such a radical change to a city that had been uh, in the situation it was, the separation of the races, by law, uh, naturally, it was a traumatic experience for those who didn't appreciate that, and they still uh, were reluctant to give in to give in to it until, you say, Burke Marshall came in, and I forget what other government officials came in to see if we couldn't get together on some basis. And as a result of that, the power structure of this city, saw the need of uh, change. And as I probably mentioned to you on the telephone, as a result of this Operation New Birmingham grew out of that.
OK UM LET'S JUST KIND OF GO ON A LITTLE BIT TO UH, BEYOND THE UM, DEMONSTRATIONS AT THAT TIME. IN JUNE OF '63, OF COURSE, THAT WAS WHEN GEORGE WALLACE MADE GOOD ON HIS CAMPAIGN PROMISE TO STAND IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR. YOU WERE THERE WITH VIVIAN J. MALONE, I BELIEVE. TELL ME ABOUT THE DAY YOU ACCOMPANIED HER INTO SCHOOL.
Well, if I might go back a little. We had been notified to come to Washington, uh, me along with one or two other of my associates, and the Attorney General notified us that the Governor was going to carry out his campaign promise to stand in the schoolhouse door, but when he is uh, requested to step aside, that he would step aside. And then of course uh, we did accompany her, with uh Katzenbach, who was uh, Assistant U.S. Attorney, and the — the state militia had been federalized, so they accompanied us to uh Montgomery, to see – I mean, to Tuscaloosa, to see that she was admitted, and General Graham, who was – who was the leader of the uh, militia, when we approached the Governor, I mean uh, he was there in the door. And uh General Graham instructed that Governor, it's my unpleasant to tell you to step aside. And the Governor made a little speech, and immediately stepped aside, so there was nothing else about it. That's – It went on off smoothly. She remained there, she graduated, and subsequent to that, many blacks have graduated. I have even received an honorary doctorate degree, as the first black from the University of Alabama. And I say, it's ironic, when I carried the first black there, they had to close the school for three days, as a result of riots, and in 1976, '76, they awarded me this honorary doctorate degree.
THAT IS IRONIC. UM, I'D LIKE TO UH JUST SORT OF PICK AT YOUR MEMORY ABOUT A FEW PEOPLE, IF I COULD. I'M GONNA MENTION SOME NAMES, I'D JUST LIKE YOU TO KIND OF GIVE ME A COMMENT OR TWO ABOUT EACH OF THESE PEOPLE, IF YOU WOULD. UH, SID SMEYER.
Sid Smeyer, you know who was an outstanding citizen of Birmingham, highly respected, member of the, not only the social elite, but the business community. I recall — I don't recall the exact statement now, but he indicated that uh things had to change here in Birmingham. So, he was one of those who were instrumental in helping to form the Operation New Birmingham.
[200 feet remaining on 514]
ALRIGHT DAVID VANN, TELL ME ABOUT DAVID VANN.
Well, David Vann was one of the outstanding proponents of change. He was a brilliant young lawyer, I believe he was at the University of Alabama when I carried the first black there, he was a student there. And uh David had the respect of the community, so he was very instrumental in helping to bring about the changes that uh we enjoyed thereafter.
HOW DO YOU FEEL – HOW DO YOU REMEMBER GEORGE WALLACE WHEN HE WAS FIRST ELECTED GOVERNOR BACK IN 62, 63?
Well, Wallace, really, today, he's typified as the personification of uh – of uh – what shall I say? Of uh, race discrimination, but my association with Wallace, I feel that – all of that was political, for this reason. As I say, your politicians, in order to be elected, had to be racist before blacks had uh any voting power. I tried a case before Wallace, I forget how many years ago it was, but he was a circuit judge down in uh Barber County. And my case lasted a week. I was uh, attacking the jury system. Blacks being excluded from the jury. And in this little town, it wasn't a nice place where I could eat, so Wallace would send out and get food, and we ate in his chambers. And uh, that case was never finally decided, because if it had been decided against us, we would have carried it to the Supreme Court, and uh that system would have been eliminated. So the case just rocked on and died of its own motion.
NOW YOU DESCRIBE A VERY TENDER STORY ABOUT GEORGE WALLACE THAT IS COMPLETELY OUT OF CHARACTER WITH THE WAY PEOPLE THINK —
That's what I say.
HOW CAN THESE TWO PEOPLE LIVE IN THE SAME PERSON?
Well, as I said it was politics. Politics, that's what it was. That's exactly what it was. As I say, uh he wasn't — he had indicated that he wasn't going to have any resistance when we brought Viv Malone down, just going to make a show, that he had promised the electorate, which was predominantly white, that before he admitted a black to the University of Alabama, that he would stand in the schoolhouse door. And that's what he did, was just pure Politics. Now for instance, well, no need in going back to Bull Connor, well now, Bull Connor, although – it indicated how he acted during the demonstrations, but blacks had been trying to get, some blacks uh, on the police force. And uh Connor contacted me and a few others, to see if we could get four or five blacks who would be interested, and join the police force. And that he would see that they were appointed. But we were never able, I mean, the image that the police department portrayed, we just couldn't get a black at that time who was willing to become a member of the police.
WHAT WAS THAT IMAGE THEY PORTRAYED?
Well, the same image that you saw when they would uh — had the dogs attacking blacks.
BUT DIDN'T THAT REFLECT BULL CONNOR?
Well, it — it — he was satisfying the people who put him in power. That's what he was doing.
THERE ARE SOME WHO SAY BULL CONNOR DIDN'T NECESSARILY REFLECT THE PEOPLE. THEY THINK THAT HE OVERRODE THE PEOPLE I MEAN—
Well, it did, he did, because the power structure put Bull Connor in office, and it, it finally came to the point where the power structure could not control Bull Connor. And they were helpful in seeing that some change did take place, because of the image that this city portrayed uh throughout the country.
DO YOU REMEMBER WYATT T. WALKER FROM THOSE DAYS?
Oh, yes. Well, Wyatt T. Walker was very instrumental and supportive of King, and uh, he participated in these demonstrations, and in the — meetings in various churches.
[That was a rollout on 514. We are now on sound, I mean Camera Roll 515. 515. Continuation of the interview with Mr. Shores.]
YOU TOLD ME ABOUT UM WHEN UM FRED SHUTTLESWORTH WAS IN JAIL, AND THE EFFORTS YOU WENT THROUGH, I WONDER IF YOU WOULD JUST TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT FRED SHUTTLESWORTH AS YOU REMEMBER HIM. WHAT WAS HIS ROLE IN ALL THIS?
Well, he was one of the — well, I would say, the chief lieutenant of King here in Birmingham. Uh, he had formed the — when the NAACP was outlawed, he formed the Christian, what was the name of the thing, Christian — well, he formed his organization, that took the place of the NAACP, and then of course, when King came, he was his right-hand man. He went to jail with him.
WHAT KIND OF A PERSON WAS HE? WAS HE HOT-HEADED?
Well, he was — I wouldn't say hot-headed, but uh he was uh, whatever he undertook to do, he saw that it was done, or attempted to see that it was done.
O.K., YOU'VE HAD A NUMBER OF OUTSTANDING EXPERIENCES IN THE HISTORY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT YOURSELF, DR. SHORES. AUTHERINE LUCY UM, THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR WITH VIVIAN MALONE, AND THE LIST JUST GOES ON. WHAT IS YOUR OUTSTANDING MEMORY? WHAT DO YOU THINK IS YOUR FINEST HOUR, YOUR MAJOR CONTRIBUTION TO ALL THIS?
Well, in several counties, even before the university case, Viv Malone and Autherine Lucy, but where blacks were denied the right to register, I have gone from the Tennessee line down to Mobile, in various counties, bringing lawsuits which required blacks to be registered to vote. And one of the outstanding cases here in this county, where six of us uh sought to become members of the state executive Democratic committee, and they refused to uh accept our fees, to be uh listed as candidates, and we went into federal court, and they were required to do so, and all six of us were elected, and I'm still a member of the uh state executive Democractic committee. And on three occasions, was an elected member to the state uh — for the national Democratic committee. And I think — I believe I was the first black who actually addressed the National Democratic committee. I was on the credentials committee from Birmingham, only two of us, a white woman, who was from Mobile, and myself. And uh, however, these two were more outstanding, the incident at the schoolhouse door, and that sort of thing, but there were many other cases that uh advanced the welfare of blacks, even before those cases. That zoning ordinance, you know.
O.K. I THANK YOU VERY MUCH, DR. SHORES… [overlap] SO WHAT DID BULL CONNOR LOOK LIKE?
Well, he was short, I guess about 5'6 u, and I believe, I believe as I recall, one of his eyes was — I'm not too sure about that, but as I recall, one of — he was blind in one eye, I'm not too sure about that. But, he was a very cordial person, uh, ordinarily, to people whom he liked, um, but to those that uh, well, — publicly, as I recall, he always appeared pleasantly, cordial. Oh, my, he was a fireball during these demonstrations. He was like a madman almost. He got out and helped to lead his firemen and policemen.
WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM? WHY DID HE BECOME LIKE THAT?
Well, I mean, he felt what was happening. You know, we had a number of people from the north, as I recall, the uh, the governor's mother, of Massachusetts, I believe, I believe, one of the New England states, marched, here in Birmingham. And we had numerous white persons, as well as black persons, from out of the state who marched in these demonstrations. So that — that – that that thoroughly uh, got Bull pretty much aroused, to see all these Yankees coming down here.
OK, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
[Ok, this is room tone, starting now… Ok, end of room tone. We are now 200 feet into Camera Roll 515. You've already had room tone. This is going to be the end of Sound Roll 1507.]